Recent reports from the Australian Institute of Criminology (Manning et al., 2013) show that Australia has seen alcohol consumption fall to a level not witnessed since the early 1960s. However, Australia is still seeing a prevailing social problem arising from the abuse of alcohol with Binge Drinking (Australian Institute of Health, 2010). This essay seeks to delve into the social aspects and interactions within society from a Symbolic Interactionism perspective in explaining the relationship between binge drinking and the social impact it has on society.
To achieve this, firstly the essay will consider the nature of binge drinking and its definition as a social problem in Australia. Further, this paper will present information about who is susceptible to binge drinking and the impact it has on society. Finally, this paper will discuss the Symbolic Interactionism theory and its application and relevance to binge drinking.
The National Abuse of Alcohol and Alcoholism (Gowan, et, al., 2017) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that increases the level of blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 g/dL. This means that on an average of two hours, this typically occurs after the intake of 5 drinks for males and four drinks for females (Gowan, et al., 2017).
Therefore, binge drinking can be defined as the heavy consumption of alcohol over a short period with the purposeful intent to become intoxicated immediately (AIHW, 2010). Binge drinking also involves the continuous drinking over a set of consecutive days or weeks, resulting in long terms effects of alcoholism (AIHW, 2010).
Over the decades, alcohol has played a significant role in Australian culture as being used predominantly as a social activity across Australian societies, inclusive of celebrating events, relaxation, mateship and recreational (Roche, et al., 2009). Many would agree that heavy consumption of alcohol is considered a social norm in Australia. Given the cultural context of binge drinking, recent studies in Australia show that traditionally men binge drink more than women. However, the gender difference is rapidly declining as a result of the growing concerns of binge drinking among women in Australia (Roche, et al., 2009).
Binge drinking has become a growing problematic activity across Australia within many societies, witnessing young adolescents at risk who are vulnerable to a high risk of impulsivity (Howard, 2006). Research shows that at least 1 in 5 Australians over the age of 14 are at risk of binge drinking, consuming high amounts of alcohol on a weekly basis (Howard, 2006). An Australian Bureau of Statistics’ report shows that between 2016-2017, the total alcohol consumed by combined genders over the age of 15 were equivalent to 9.4 litres of unmixed alcohol per person (Commonwealth Department of Health, 2010). Data also revealed that across the age groups, middle age groups had a higher commonness than the youngest and oldest age groups (Commonwealth Department of Health, 2010).
The most influential risk factors related to the above age groups and their risk of binge drinking are anti-social factors that affect their early development within their family (Howard, 2006). This includes learned parental substance abuse, ineffective parenting, lack of support, and lack of family attachments and nurturing, resulting in the individual building social bonds with anti-social peers via school and community engagement, as a way to form attachments and acceptance (Manning, et al., 2013).
The consequence of Australia’s overall alcohol consumption with early adolescent could imply a further increase to the current negative social impacts precipitated by binge drinking, which already cause harmful social and health repercussions (Roche, et al., 2009). Alcohol studies conducted in New South Wales found that there was a substantial relationship between binge drinking and offensive behaviour, verbal and physical assaults and crime such as malicious damage to property and victimisation (Roche, et al., 2009). Also, further impacts on society include alcohol-related violence and injuries. Binge drinking also has an adverse effect on family relations causing a detachment from the binge drinker within their family circle (Manning, et al., 2013).
Symbolic Interactionism is labelled as a relatively particular approach to the study of human conduct and the interactions of group life (Carter & Fuller, 2015). Symbolic Interactionism is a micro approach examining an individual’s role and interactions with others in society (Burke, 1980). It reflects on an individual’s perception based on their interactions with other individuals and the impact of their behaviour on society. This gives reasoning to the theory that actions reflect meaning and behaviour (Burke, 1980).
Theorist Herbert Blumer (1962), conceptualised the three core elements that define Symbolic Interactionism, language, thought and meaning. His theory involved learned thoughts and behaviour with the use of interactive symbols, such as gestures, body language, reactions, facial expressions and words (Blumer, 1962). These symbols play a vital role in the communication between people (Blumer, 1962).
Individuals take into consideration what others think of them and let it override their perspective of themselves and how they fit into society (Wilsnack, et al., 2009). Individuals will adjust their thoughts and behaviour based on others interpretation of them (Wilsnack, et al., 2009). Cooley’s (1929) theory of ‘The Looking-Glass Self’ argues that people act as a social mirror. In that others, reactions towards them take on a role in our imaginary observations of how we look to other people, thus labelling ourselves and making judgements based on others behaviour towards us. This is more so through the interactions of a significant other or someone whose behaviour to someone has a substantial influence on that person’s judgement of one’s self (McNair, 2004).
Howard Becker’s (1963) theory, supports how individuals label themselves as a result of human action. When people see others behaviour, as a result of their reaction to their behaviour, they will assume as to whether they are deviant or a conformist (Becker, 1963). The perceived labelling of an individual has a significant impact on how they see themselves moving forward, people form a label of themselves based on the judgement of significant others and behave according to this (Becker, 1963).
Following on is Robert Mead’s (1934) theory, in the way one sees themselves is socially derived, by the exchange of symbols and other people’s perspective, individuals will take on societal rules by learning how others react and behave in societal groups and society as a whole (Askan, et al., 2009). Individuals internalise these rules whether it be deviant or by conforming and behave accordingly (Mead, 1934).
Erving Goffman’s theory (1956) that the world is a stage, supports the thinking that we all have a role in society that we act out every day (Jacobsen, 2015). From early adolescence, individuals are trialling different identities based on their interactions and learned behaviour with others in society (Jacobsen, 2015). The individual will eventually develop their role whereby they feel that they fit in line with their function in society and how they see themselves acting in their social environments (Jacobsen, 2015).
Overall, Symbolic Interactionism theory is developed on the idea that human beings are very social and that individuals are inseparable with the society they live in and each is created through social interactions understood regarding the other (Blumer, 1962). As established above, Symbolic Interactionism is a micro-level approach to the symbolic interactions between individuals, social groups, and institutions in society (Carter ; Fuller, 2015). Binge drinking is addressed within the paradigm of the above theories by way of analysing the social setting of an individual experiencing binge drinking, as being influenced by those around them in their social context (Carter ; Fuller, 2015). Symbolic Interactionism looks at the influences of social meanings linked to binge drinking (Johnson ; White, 2003).
Theorist look at the purpose of the alcohol abuse in Australia as a means to explain the social phenomenon based on cultural expectations and social norms and the interactions between people engaging in binge drinking (Johnson ; White, 2003). Group norms are put in place to measure the mirror image of how one should behave in an Australian social context (Johnson ; White, 2003).
Considering Cooley’s (1929) ‘looking glass mirror’ theory, the reactions from another binge drinker who receives acceptance from other peers, can influence an individual’s way of looking at themselves and how they do or do not fit into their social environment (McNair, 2004). How others behave towards them about their compliance in group binge drinking can force that person to judge themselves as being too rigid with a need to fit into the cultural norms (McNair, 2004). Therefore, individuals engage in deviant behaviour to fit into their social settings and gain societal recognition, based on what others think of them and the social expectation (McNair, 2004).
Blumer’s (1969) theory concentrates on the social meaning attached to behaviour, in this case, binge drinking and the deviant pleasurable experience associated with binge drinking (Hoops, 2012). It is likely that an individual learns the short-term pleasure/high one can experience through binge drinking (Hoops, 2012). Individuals learn drinking techniques to achieve such pleasure and discover the motivations and reasoning behind the desire to binge drink through their interactions with other binge drinkers (Hoops, 2012). Given binge drinking in Australia is considered a social norm as a way to have elevated fun and be accepted, this can cause a reactive response to the individual taking on the role in society as being outgoing and fun to be around based on other’s perceptions of them (Manning, et al., 2013). As a result, that person will engage in regular binge drinking to fulfil their role in their social circle (Salvini, 2010).
In conclusion, when considering the perspective of a Symbolic Interactionism, binge drinking is a result of an individual’s exposure to alcohol and the different types of social settings the exposure was encountered (Johnson & White, 2003). Binge Drinking is consistent in the learnt ability from a Symbolic Interactionist approach and the engagement an individual takes part in as an interpretation of another’s perception of them (McNair, 2004).